December 31, 2016

This week in TV Guide: December 30, 1967

Many people awaken on New Year's morning with two thoughts on their minds: 1) how do I get rid of the headache from this hangover? and 2) I hope this year will be better than last year. Those who awoke on Monday, January 1, 1968 with such hopes for the new year might have had an even worse headache had they known what the year had in store for them, and they probably would have turned around and gone back to bed, hoping that when they next awoke it might be 1969. Had they stuck with it though the day, however, they might have found it pretty entertaining.

It actually begins on Sunday night, New Year's Eve, when - in the days before Dick Clark's New Year's Rocking Eve - your television entertainment options were slightly more limited. CBS presents the only network fare, the traditional ringing in of the new year with Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians playing the sweetest music this side of Heaven, live from the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Guy's guests are Margaret Whiting, Jean-Paul Vignon and the Kane Triplets: definitely a program for a very specific age demographic. WTCN, the independent station, offers a pleasant alternative at 10:0 p.m. CT: an hour of songs by Lena Horne, taped in London. And KMSP, the ABC affiliate, broadcasts a Twin Cities tradition, a three-hour musical New Year's Eve service from Soul's Harbor mission in downtown Minneapolis. Here's a sample of what it sounded like.

New Year's Day opens with parades galore: the Cotton Bowl Parade from Dallas, starting at 9:30 a.m. on CBS and hosted by Jack Linkletter and Marilyn Van Derbur. Meanwhile, at the same time NBC shows highlights of Saturday* night's King Orange Jamboree Parade in Miami, with Raymond Burr and Anita Bryant. At 10:30 a.m., it's the granddaddy of all parades, the Tournament of Roses; this year's theme is "The Wonderful World of Adventure," and the Grand Marshal is none other than Illinois Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen, a great statesman currently basking in the unexpected fame from his hit spoken-word recordings.

*Not surprisingly, the parade - like the Rose Parade was moved when the holiday fell on Sunday.

Following the parade, at 12:45 p.m., it's something for everyone - as long as you like football. On CBS, it's the Cotton Bowl, with unranked Texas A&M, the Southwest Conference champion (despite an overall record of 6-4-0) upsetting #8 Alabama 20-16. Meanwhile, NBC has its "football widowmaker" tripleheader, starting with the Sugar Bowl, pitting #6 Wyoming, the nation's only major undefeated team, going on hostile turf against LSU (a team that had finished sixth in the SEC) and suffering their first loss, 20-13. That's followed at 3:45 p.m. by the Rose Bowl, pitting national champion* USC against the country's Cinderella team, #4 Indiana, a tough game won by USC 14-3. The highlight of the day, however, was the Orange Bowl at 6:45 p.m., as #2 Tennessee took on #3 Oklahoma, a thrilling game that saw Oklahoma race out to a big lead before holding off a furious Tennessee comeback. The Volunteers missed a last-second field goal, and the Sooners held on to win, 24-22.

*The next year, the writers would begin choosing the champion after the bowl games.

If you weren't in the mood for pigskin, ABC did have some alternatives for you. For example, there's the debut of The Baby Game at 1:30 p.m., in which "Couples test their knowledge of child behavior," predicting how their children will react in certain situations. If you don't believe me (it was, after all, created by Chuck Barris), here's proof, including commercials:


The show only runs 25 minutes; at 1:55 it's the five-minute Children's Doctor, with Dr. Lendon Smith. Nice tie-in.

Nowadays, the networks probably opt for reruns on New Year's Day, as they do throughout the holiday season, but almost all of the series episodes airing opposite football are first-run, another interesting difference between now and then. I know series generally had more episodes back then as opposed to now, which means they didn't have to run as many repeats, but I have another theory, which is that back in the late '60s, television was still enough of an "event" that when families and friends got together during the holidays, they still viewed sitting around the television set as group entertainment.

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Guests include singers Miriam Makeba, Vikki Carr, Gianna d'Angelo, and Jay and the Techniques; impressionist George Kirby; drummer Buddy Rich and his orchestra; accordionist Dick Contino; comedian Rodney Dangerfield; juggler Montego; and puppet Topo Gigio.

Palace: Hostess Phyllis Diller presents singer Johnnie Ray, Robert Vaughn, singer-ventriloquist Shari Lewis (and Lambchop), comic Charlie Manna, and the singing Sandpipers.

This strikes me at first glance as kind of a meh week. Not terrible, but not great either. In cases like this, it's likely the supporting players who'll make the difference, and in this case you have to look at Ed's - Buddy Rich, whom I always liked, George Kirby, who's always good, and Rodney Dangerfield, who's frequently very funny. Against them, I don't think the Man from U.N.C.L.E., the crying singer, and Fang's worst nightmare can compete. It's not a landslide victory, but Sullivan takes the win nonetheless.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era. 

This week Cleveland Amory gives us a bit of a twist, reviewing NET's Omnibus-like show PBL, which stands for Public Broadcasting Laboratory.

We'll note right away that Amory thinks the show's terrific, primarily because there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Billed as public broadcasting's first live network news program, the show offers a little bit of everything, from interviews with political leaders to comedy spoofs of TV commercials to debates on the issues of the day to excerpts of dramatic plays. (I wonder if adding this cross of Saturday Night Life and Great Performances would do anything for Scott Pelley's ratings?) Particularly interesting is a segment that appeared on the third program, which Amory calls "the greatest single interview we have ever seen," that being between veteran Washington columnist Walter Lippmann and young people. The highlight came when one of them asked Lippman if these were the worst times he'd seen. "Yes," Lippman replied, "but not in the sense I fear the bomb. It's because of the disintegration of hope and morality." Sounds familiar, don't you think?

If you haven't heard of PBL before now, and I suspect you might not have (I'm only familiar with it from having seen it in TV Guide; I don't recall ever having watched an episode), one of the reasons might have to do with Amory's closing paragraph, in which he sounds a warning about the future. Seems as if PBL's "board" wants to "exert more control" over the program, produced by Av Westin and hosted by Edward P. Morgan (both formerly of ABC). "We can think of no worse news!" Amory sighs. "Imagine 'control' exerted by a board of 12 - four of whom are Columbia professors and one a contributing editor of Harper's magazine. And none of them, we'll wager, has seen a full two hours of television since the Army-McCarthy hearings [in 1954 - MH]. To this board we say leave this fine program alone. Hands off PBL." Whether for that or other reasons, PBL managed but a two-year run, ending in 1969.

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It is indeed a big week for football. In addition to the New Year's Day festivities, both professional leagues settle their championships on New Year's Eve. It begins at 1:00 p.m. on CBS, where the Dallas Cowboys travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers for the NFL Championship in one of the most famous football games ever played. It's called "The Ice Bowl," and as the game starts the temperature hovers at a numbing -15⁰; the wind chill has dropped to -50⁰ by the time Packers quarterback Bart Starr sneaks the ball across the frozen goal line with 13 seconds to play to give Green Bay a 21-17 victory and their third consecutive championship.

Meanwhile, the temperature's nearly 60 degrees higher in Oakland, where at 3:30 p.m. on NBC the Raiders play the Houston Oilers for the AFL title and a trip to the second Super Bowl against the Packers. This game has none of the high drama that accompanied the NFL game, as Oakland storms to a 40-7 victory over Houston. Two weeks later, on January 14, the Packers dominate the Raiders 33-14 to win that second Super Bowl.

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With the new year comes television's second season, when the 13-week wonders of the fall give way to new hopefuls, most of which will meet similar fates. Even though the month just started, we can already see some of the changes the networks have in mind - for example, next week ABC moves The Invaders from it's current time spot of Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. to make way for the debut of It Takes a Thief, starring Robert Wagner. The Invaders will now be seen at 9:00 p.m. Tuesday, allowing The Hollywood Palace to return to its old 8:30 p.m. Saturday spot. The loser in all of this: The Iron Horse, starring Dale Robertson, which airs for the last time next Saturday.

ABC's Wednesday night lineup is facing changes as well. Custer, which has previously occupied the 6:30 p.m. time spot, has already, as TV Guide puts it, "gone off the air." This week's replacement is a special, Mr. Dickens of London, with the acclaimed British actor Sir Michael Redgrave, and directed by former Fugitive co-star Barry Morse. It's being repeated, even though it was just run on December 12 - that airing was partially pre-empted because of a speech by President Johnson. (Probably on Vietnam.) Next week, The Avengers fills the time spot.


Friday night also has changes in store. NBC gets into the act; after January 5 Accidental Family disappears (and that's no accident), its place taken by a nighttime version of The Hollywood Squares. And this week's one new show debuts: it's Operation: Entertainment, a kind of domestic Bob Hope tour, in which entertainers travel to various military bases throughout the United States. Maybe they wanted to reach the troops before Vietnam made them too cynical, I don't know. Anyway, this airs on ABC from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., having replaced the Western series Hondo.

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Speaking of new programs, I think it's fair to suggest that the As We See It editorial might strike a few nerves, even today. The topic is television series based on feature films, and it's a trend that doesn't appear to be going away any time soon despite, as Merrill Panitt points out, the failure of Mister Roberts, Shane, The Rounders, The Man Who Never Was, Flipper, 12 O'Clock High, The Wackiest Ship in the Army, Please Don't Eat the Daisies, and The Long, Hot, Summer, not to mention the cancellation of formerly successful series such as Dr. Kildare and The Farmer's Daughter. Did the network programmers give up after this track record? "They did not," Panitt says. "Not the ingenious, farsighted, dedicated thinkers who decide what viewers will see. Undaunted by their bombs and near-misses, they keep coming like - as Hank Grant of The Hollywood Reporter puts it - "kamikaze pilots avenging their fallen comrades."

The result, as soon as next year, could be series based on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, The Little Kidnappers, Anatomy of a Murder, "and - a real stroke of genius - Blondie." At least three of those concepts did indeed come to fruition, though none of them were huge hits. It's a trend that hasn't gone away, though nowadays it's just as often movies that are being adapted from television shows. If they're not adapting comic books, that is.

What to say about such creativity? "Only in television are they resourceful enough to take a situation barely heavy enough to sustain an 80- or 90-minute movie and stretch it into several dozen 30- or 60-minute episodes. It takes experience. It takes know-how. It takes inspiration. . . .The new ideas flow like glue. In Alaska."

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More things in this issue that we could write about this week, but I think I'll wrap it up with Robert Musel's article on the oddities of British TV. For example, they have a sitcom about a bigot - can you believe it? You'd better, because that sitcom, Til Death Us Do Part, will be showing up on your TV screens in about three years, renamed All in the Family.

We could just assume that the entire article revolves around this, and chuckle about how they had no idea, but there's more to this review of television across the pond, and we might be surprised by some of the other series they're showing over there. For example, Rainbow City, a drama about a young lawyer practicing in Birmingham, England, his wife, and their small son. The lawyer happens to be black, his wife is white. It would have been impossible to air a program like that in the United States; it was tough enough getting Southern theaters to show Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Speaking of which, the BBC uses Rainbow City as protection against attacks because of their variety show, the award-winning Black and White Minstrel Show. Throw in the commercial broadcaster ITV and Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width, a comedy about an Irish-Catholic trouser-maker and a Jewish jacket-maker, and you get the picture.

There's also a program that I think would do quite well over here, Talkback, in which viewers are given a chance "to voice their criticisms and complaints in face-to-face confrontation with performers, writers, producers." Throw in newscasters, and I think you've got a deal. Interestingly enough, the article doesn't reference two of the best-known British series of the time, the soap opera Coronation Street and the time-traveling science fiction series Doctor Who. Coronation Street had already been on the air for seven years at the time, and still goes strong today. Doctor Who had been on for four years, and had already survived the extraordinary act of replacing the lead actor, not by killing him off or recasting with a lookalike, but by something they called "regeneration." Doctor Who is still on as well, having regenerated itself after a hiatus, and is now on Doctor Number 12 (or 13 if you're a true Whovian, but who's counting?).

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As for those other stories we didn't get to? Maybe we'll revisit them next year or something. Speaking of which, this is in fact the last blog post of 2016, and I hope you enjoyed the year as much as I did. I hope also to see you back here in a couple of days, by which time it will already be 2017!

And unlike our fictional friend we referred to at the beginning of this piece, let's hope that 2017 is, in fact, a better year for all of us. Happy New Year!

8 comments:

  1. Here & There:

    - The Baby Game wasn't a Chuck Barris production.
    All Barris's shows originated in Hollywood.
    Baby Game was produced by the ABC network in New York City; Richard Hayes, the MC, was moonlighting from his regular job as Arthur Godfrey's sidekick on the latter's CBS morning radio show.
    I think you're mixing this show up with The Family Game, which was a Barris show, several years later on ABC; Bob Barker was that show's host.

    - Still on Chuck Barris: another show of his on ABC was Operation: Entertainment, referenced further down.
    This was an early attempt by Barris to spread his range to something other than Game Show Man; it was mainly unsuccessful, perhaps because it was played fairly straight (Gomer Pyle and (to a lesser extent) Star Trek did it in).

    - On Saturday. Jackie Gleason forwent his regular "book musical" format for a straight variety hour, with Milton Berle, Louis Armstrong, Kate Smith, Frank Fontaine (non-Crazy), and Bert Kaempfert and his Orchestra.
    That last was what I was watching for:
    Bert Kaempfert was having hit records with his instrumentals like "A Swingin' Safari", "That Happy Feeling", and "Red Roses For A Blue Lady"; others of his compositions picked up ex post facto lyrics to become hits like "Spanish Eyes", "L-O-V-E", and particularly "Strangers In The Night".
    Jackie Gleason was a major fan of Kaempfert and his music, and determined to have the whole orchestra (including brass, winds, and a full string section) on his show, no matter the cost.
    And it was costly: the whole Kaempfert orchestra had to be flown to Miami Beach from their recording base in Hamburg, Germany (many of Kaempfert's musicians lived in other parts of Europe, and their transportation added to the expense).
    Gleason gave the Kaempfert orchestra the last segment of the show - the band at center stage playing a long medley of their hits, with the June Taylor Dancers providing decorative support.
    A big finish for New Year's Eve Eve - and offhand, I'd say that this Gleason show left both Sullivan and the Palace in the dust.

    - Noting that Friday's Wild Wild West features as one of its villains Theo Marcuse, in one of several guest shots that will be airing posthumously over the coming weeks.
    Marcuse, whose shaved head and haughty manner kept him busy in many crime, spy, and even comedy shows in the past few years, was killed in a car crash in November; between new shows and reruns, he could still be seen for most of the rest of the season.

    - Not to dwell on this aspect, but I've just noticed that this week's Run For Your Life feature a guest appearance by Albert Dekker, who would make headlines later in '68 with his bizarre suicide by hanging ( there's some dispute over whether it really was suicide - but that's another story).
    It ties in here because Dekker was making many appearances on TV this season - and one of the last ones, on Bonanza, aired less than a week after his death.

    - And to continue in this depressing mode, check out the feature on Carol Burnett in the color section ...

    - Also noted: this week's Batman is the one where the Joker (Cesar Romero) and Catwoman (Eartha Kitt this time) are on trial - and their lawyer is "Lucky Pierre", played by Pierre Salinger, former press secretary to JFK, and later a Democratic Senator from California.
    This was about a year after Salinger had lost the Senate seat to Republican George Murphy; one of the GOP's staunchest campaigners for Murphy was none other than Cesar Romero (things were different back then, I know ...).

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  2. The success of BATMAN probably gave ABC too quick a trigger finger at mid-season for a few years after.

    Case in point: HONDO was cancelled early in November, after only 9 episodes had aired. But after the cancellation was announced, the ratings started to rise, even against GOMER PYLE and STAR TREK. By mid-December, HONDO's initial 21 share and 12.8 rating in September had risen to 25 and 15 respectively. The final episode on Dec. 29th the week before this posted a 16.1 rating/27 share, and inched ahead of STAR TREK for the second half hour.

    GUNS OF WILL SONNETT, the show that aired right after HONDO on Friday nights, was given more time after also ranking in the bottom 20 initially. It ended up improving at roughly the same pace, and was renewed for 1968-69.

    ABC was running third and there was more of a tendency IMO for hasty decisions there. On the other networks, both MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and HIGH CHAPPARAL got off to unimpressive starts, but CBS and NBC ended up with long-running hits by being a little more patient.

    As for the other western, CUSTER, nothing could have saved it. A bad idea and a lousy show.

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  3. Although it appears that it was broadcast in the Twin Cities on CBS affiliate WCCO Channel 4, I thought that in the late 1960's and very early 1970s, the Guy Lombardo New Year's Eve special was actually syndicated and not on a network.

    But it did air on CBS in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and did return to the network for a few years prior to Lombardo's death.

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    1. That is true...I did some exploring in online newspaper archives. During that time it aired on WGN Chicago and WFIL Philadelphia, among other non-CBS stations.

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  4. FLIPPER was a success, beating Jackie Gleason for two seasons until he brought back THE HONEYMOONERS for 1966-67.

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    1. True. FLIPPER ranked 25th during the 1964-65 season and 29th during 1965-66. The show was cancelled after slipping to 56th place in 1966-67. Interestingly, NBC replaced it with another movie turned TV show with an animal in a key role, MAYA, which performed worse than FLIPPER (14.5 rating at mid-season, third in the time slot behind ABC's game shows).

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    2. FLIPPER did finish slightly behind GLEASON those first two seasons, though, but it was very close. GLEASON was 21st in 1964-65 (24.4 rating to FLIPPER's 23.4) and the next season, posted a 22.0 to FLIPPER's 21.6.

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    3. Perfect example of the "color gap" that was finally concerning CBS by this time...Gleason was in black & white for those two years.

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